Saturday, 4 April 2009

St David’s Ward—Chapter One

St David’s was the first city ward I attempted to transcribe. Although I had done a lot of transcribing before, including both the 1851 and 1861 censuses for York Township, tackling a census form which individual families had filled in was definitely a new process. Reading writing styles which changed from page to page was one challenge, understanding how different people interpreted the instructions was another.

St David’s stretched from Jarvis Street east to the River Don and from King Street East to Bloor, or “the Second Concession”. The southern part of the ward was densely populated but the number of houses in the quarter east of Ontario Street and north of Queen was definitely less. North of Gerrard Street there were even less people. It is hard to imagine this area as thinly populated as it was in the early 1860s. Today we know much of it as Regents Park, where two or three large schemes of urban renewal have taken place during the 20th century to improve the quality of residential accommodation left from earlier times.

The street names were not methodically added to the forms by the enumerators, and this has made it difficult to establish the boundaries of the six divisions into which the ward had been divided. It has also been very difficult to identify families in the Caverhill (1859) and Mitchell (1863) Directories because so many people moved so much during those 4 or 5 years.

Most people had many fewer possessions than we do. It was simpler to rent a house than buy one; leases may have been unknown and a mortgage was probably out of the question for most families. Moving house was probably a much simpler proposition for them than it is for us.

Recently I decided for the nth time to see if I could figure out where all the streets were where the enumerator had not put them on the individual schedules. I had tried to do this before, but usually hit upon an operation that took so long that I never found the answer. This time I took my Access database and made a query asking for a list of the number of households on each street within each Division. I transferred the list to a spreadsheet and sorted the list by division and then by street. What do you know--most of the households without an address were in Division 3, something I hadn’t realized before.

I made a copy of a map that I had scanned from Toronto in the 1850s and, using a free image-enhancing software package called, I outlined the five divisions for which I had streets. Presto! Division 3 was the empty space. And what an important one. The western boundary was Jarvis Street, the eastern one Parliament, the south Queen East and the north, Gerrard—the territory many families were moving into as they found their circumstances becoming more comfortable.

This is only the beginning of the story of St David's Ward. Chapters Two and Three are on their way.

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